Wednesday Reflection: Bats
In his poem, Bat, David Herbert Lawrence, expressed his dislike for the nocturnal mammal. However, the poem begins positively:
At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise …
When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding …….
Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.
A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.
And you think:
“The swallows are flying so late!”
The swallows are gone.
A symbol of death and rebirth, ‘Guardian of the Night’, bats emerge from caves and hidden places at evening, between the day and the night. They are liminal creatures. One of the Old English words for bat is flittermouse; the Scots is ‘bawkie’ or ‘bawkie birds’.
Bats are there in the folklore of North American Indians and South Pacific Fijians. In Chinese folklore, bats symbolise ‘blessing’ and five bats together are five blessings: long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death.
At incredible speed in seemingly erratic flight, bats dart through the air menacingly. Almost silent like tiny stealth bombers, they fly too close for comfort but are gone before we realise they are overhead. With fur and teeth and nursing their young like other mammals, bats do not walk but have wings and fly. Living between the day and the night and being both mammal and bird, they are liminal creatures. Few of us would choose a bat as a symbol of Christianity; not for us an image of a bat face on a badge pinned to our lapel or as a pendant hanging on a chain round our necks instead of a cross or crucifix.
Yet, as Christians, we are like bats, liminal creature. We live between two worlds, in both time and eternity. On trial standing before Pilate, Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. We encounter God through the world, through nature’s beauty and human love, endeavour and companionship. But our hearts are in heaven: the Eternal dwells within us; in flesh and time we taste the Infinite.
It is also true that, over the course of our lives, we will have lived through liminal moments; times of change when we moved from one stage in life to another. The Franciscan, Father Richard Rohr, writes:
Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where
we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt
and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the
next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is
challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during
illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but
often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. In such space, we are not certain
or in control.
We can encounter God in the liminal experiences of our lives; in moments of transition, moments which are sometimes not welcome. Through this pandemic, when there is so much fear, insecurity, and distress, let us take comfort from the peace, the shalom, that comes from being still, silent and trusting in God’s tender Presence. Looking back, it can be our moments of transition which are our times of most profound growth. God is with us.